ATHENS – It hasn’t worked twice so Greece’s New Democracy government is taking another shot at hoping extending a COVID-19 lockdown another week, to at least Jan. 18, will help bring the pandemic under control.
The second lockdown since March of 2019 began Nov. 7 for a month, then was pushed back another month, and now again after more lenient terms and allowing churches to open for Epiphany Day celebrations has brought worries of a spike.
Despite that, kindergartens and elementary schools will reopen Jan. 11 although at least one official on the government’s advisory health panel said it might not be safe and that the Coronavirus could spread in the classrooms.
At the same time, a vaccination program that had hoped to inoculate millions is doing so only in trickles, some 5,000 a day and plans to increase it to 8,000 a day in a country of 10.5 million people, which could take 5 ½ years.
The government received only about 95,000 doses of the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine instead of the millions expected but said it still hopes to have some 2.2 million shots through the early part of this year.
That would still fall far short of the original estimate that 70 percent of the populace would need to be vaccinated to slow the pandemic, officials now reducing that to 50 percent without explaining the contradiction scientifically.
“We must, at all cost, take steps to counter the expected rise of infections that occurred over the Christmas holidays,” Vana Papaevangelou, a scientific advisor to the government and a professor of infectious diseases at Athens University, told reporters – before the Jan. 6 Epiphany Day celebrations saw crowds in churches.
There are signs already that the lockdown could be pushed back a fourth time if the epidemiological data doesn’t improve and vaccines take longer than expected to reach across the country, where dozens of centers are being set up for shots.
Registration for getting inoculated begin Jan. 11 online and priority will be given to those over 85, health care workers, nursing home patients, teachers, those with multiple or underlying conditions and the elderly after politicians were first in line.
Only 35,000 people have been vaccinated so far and there have been more than 143,000 cases and 5,195 deaths after early in 2019 showing signs of containing the virus by being stricter, more than 85 percent of the deaths after Nov. 1.
Mitsotakis, chairing a government meeting on COVID-19, said that hospitals across the country, including the Greek islands, would receive vaccine supplies by Jan. 11, the program still off to a crawling start, seeing criticism from rival parties.
Separately, Greece's Civil Aviation Authority announced a new compulsory seven-day quarantine for any passenger flying into the country from abroad, including from European Union member countries, up to and including Jan. 21.
Passengers will also face spot rapid tests on arrival, all still required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test a maximum of 72 hours before arrival, and fill in a passenger locator form
Rapid tests on arrival are compulsory for passengers arriving from the United Kingdom, who will only be able to leave their quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 at the end of the seven-day period, the announcement said.
The Civil Aviation Authority also announced an extension to the flight ban from Turkey and Spain’s Catalonia region until Jan. 21, as well as the ban on arrivals for non-EU citizens except those from the UK, Singapore, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)